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With wolf plan complete, Michiganders lobby state on possibility of a hunt

wolf
About 700 wolves live in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. (Shutterstock)
  • Wolf hunting is currently illegal in Michigan
  • A new state plan envisions possible hunting in the future
  • But state species managers say they’re in no hurry to consider a hunt

After the latest change to gray wolves’ status under the federal Endangered Species Act, it’s illegal to hunt the iconic predators in Michigan.

But following the release of a state plan that opens the door to the possibility of future hunts, the animal’s friends and foes are already lobbying state species managers about whether Michigan should launch a hunt if wolves lose federal protections.

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At a meeting Thursday of the state Natural Resources Commission, animal rights groups and Native Americans pleaded with commissioners to keep a hunt off the table, while hunting advocates pressed them to establish ground rules for a prospective Michigan hunt.

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Those comments came as DNR prepares to finalize a wolf management plan that paves the way for state species managers to consider allowing wolf hunts either as a means of reducing human conflict with wolves or providing hunters with recreational opportunities.

The draft plan, slated for possible approval by DNR Director Dan Eichinger next month, serves as a guide to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and its appointed Natural Resources Commission, which hold ultimate control over how the state manages its roughly 700 wolves, all of them in the Upper Peninsula.

Speaking before the commission Thursday, hunting advocates urged species managers to create a plan for wolf hunting, with some criticizing the wolf plan for failing to set a target for the maximum number of wolves in Michigan. 

“We’re not shy about it, that we do support hunting and trapping of wolves,” said Amy Trotter, executive director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs. But “we come at it from a conservation perspective.”

Agency officials have long resisted calls to set a target max population for wolves. Instead, DNR large carnivore specialist Cody Norton said, the agency is “striving to provide those social and ecological benefits of having wolves out on the landscape, while minimizing conflict.”

Wolf advocates argue that conflicts can be resolved without hunting. 

With wolves currently protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, it’s illegal to kill them except in self defense.

But if wolves lose federal protections, Michigan law already allows farmers and hunters to kill wolves that threaten their livestock and dogs, a process that eliminates problem wolves without sacrificing the innocent, Molly Tamulevich, Michigan state director of the Humane Society of the United States, told commissioners Thursday."

Initiating a hunting season, she said, would be “like using a hammer when it would be better to use a scalpel.”

The debate over wolf hunting comes amid uncertainty about wolves’ federal protected status. Michigan wolves have been removed and re-added to the federal endangered species repeatedly in recent years, amid legal arguments over whether they’ve rebounded from extinction’s brink enough to warrant the loss of protection. 

In the most recent change, a federal judge in February reinstated federal protections for wolves, nullifying a Trump administration decision to delist the animals in 2021.

Agency spokesperson Ed Golder told Bridge Michigan that DNR staff are in no rush to consider drafting criteria for a possible wolf hunt while the federal ban remains in place. 

Addressing other issues at Thursday’s meeting, commissioners declined to vote on a proposal that would remove reaches of Cedar Creek in Barry County, Pigeon Creek in Ottawa County, and an unnamed tributary on the north bank of the Coldwater River in Barry County from the state’s list of designated trout streams.

Some commissioners expressed concern with the proposal, arguing a lack of data on stream temperatures and fish populations made them uncomfortable giving up on efforts to manage the streams for coldwater-loving trout.

Eichinger pushed back at those concerns, noting that the streams in question are minor waterways, not storied trout rivers like the Pere Marquette or Boardman.

“We have 36,000 miles of rivers and streams in this state,” Eichinger said. “And much as we may desire to have in-depth, doctoral dissertation-level readouts of every quarter-mile stretch of river that we have, it’s impractical.”

The action comes as Michigan species managers grapple with an unsettling long-term reality: Climate change is warming Michigan’s rivers, and will eventually render some of today’s trout streams too hot for the fish’s survival.

Tom Baird, chair of the NRC, said he wants the department to tread cautiously when it considers reclassifying trout streams, because “nothing is going to go back on the list.”

The commission said it will reconsider the issue in December. 

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